Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ancient Ecclesia: What's Old is New Again.

Has Greek history come full circle?

Today while reading about the protests in Greece (in which demonstrators have been gathering outside Athens' parliment building to protest austerity measures meant to stave off Greek insolvency), I came across this:

Every night [in Syntagma Square], the "people's assembly" gathers and decides, by a show of hands, what will be discussed. A volunteer and rotating "coordinating committee" then gives anybody who wants to speak a slip of paper with a number on it. Speakers speak for two minutes in the order numbers are drawn. The assembled then vote, with results quickly put up on a website.

What's startling about these organized meetings in Syntagma Square is that this is almost exactly what the Athenians used to do 2,500 years ago. Back then the men of the city (no women, slaves or non-citizens were allowed) would gather every week in an open space to discuss anything that affected their polis. The rotating "coordinating commitee" of today was then known as the Boule, a group of 500 citizens who set the agenda for the public assembly. The gathering place for this assembly--then known as the Ecclesia--was held on the Pynx, a rocky outcrop below the Acropolis. As with the protestors in Athens today, anybody in the Ecclesia could speak their mind on any topic, though instead of being given a number they would be given a wreath known as the Speaker's Wreath. After the speeches were finished, each item on the agenda would be voted on by a show of hands and the results posted in some sort of public forum (or at least the results were heard about from people hanging about around the market place).

Have the protestors in Syntagma Square taken a page from their ancestor's political playbook? It sure looks like it, and the ancient Ecclesia is not the only thing that they've taken their cues from. According to the same article, a group known as the "300" is collecting signatures to hold a referendum on the 110 billion euro bailout that saved Greece from bankruptcy last year in exchange for austerity. The "300" of course are named after the legendary Spartans who held their own against the massive Persian army at the battle of Thermopylae.

Although it's hard to say where Greece will go in the future, it's clear that modern Greeks are being influenced by their ancient past. I just hope that whatever happens in Greece, the result is a peaceful resolution that will be fair to everyone.


Mark said...

I don't know, I see the similarities, but I also see the differences. I'm not a big fan of the whole "history repeats itself" thing, and I found Greece pretty charming last year despite what the media always says. But maybe that's just me (shrug) :)

M said...

Hi Meghan! I just wanted you to know that there's another Meghan Sullivan out there who is also "an aspiring historical fiction writer." :-) I am also passionate about anicent studies. My email address is M Sullivan Stivers at gmail. Stivers is my husband's last name, but it isn't mine officially; I stayed Meghan Sullivan. Your modeling pics are gorgeous and I'd love to read your novel. Have a great day!